Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Hate Speech and Terrorism

YOU ARE IN: Home Page > Topics > Antisemitism

Colin Rubenstein

As this edition of the Australia/Israel Review makes clear, Australia has a problem with some extremist Muslim literature which incites to violent hatred, and even calls for violent terrorism against non-Muslims.

As we document in this edition, some Muslim bookshops in Australia are peddling viciously antisemitic materials, including some directed at children. Moreover, various material inciting violence and glorifying terorrism, including some endorsed by Osama bin Laden himself, has also been found at these book shops, and according to prosecutors and police, is not prohibited by the recently revised sedition laws against inciting terrorism.

Furthermore, Muslim students at elite Australian universities are being exposed to racist hate literature, calls to distrust and despise all non-Muslims and glorification of terrorist violence in the name of Islam.

When the government reformed sedition laws last year to stop direct incitement to terrorist violence, some in the media and academia raised sometimes hysterical claims that the laws went too far and would stifle legitimate political reporting and debate.

It is now clear that, in fact, in some respects these laws do not go far enough.

Therefore, AIJAC welcomes the commitment of the government to review existing laws to address the loopholes which appear to allow literature which openly incites to terror, violence and hate to circulate freely. If existing laws cannot deal with these issues then they certainly need to be urgently reviewed and amended.

Critics of these laws are correct that, in a democracy, the bar should always be set high in making a case that any expression is so destructive that it must be restricted, and any such restrictions must be as narrow as possible.

But this is a case where, in the current international and domestic situation, this threshold has been reached. Australia is currently in conflict with a global jihadist movement that seeks to impose its totalitarian vision on Australia and the world. We need laws that prevent the dissemination of material in Australia that explicitly encourages the overthrow of our democratic system or incites violence and dehumanisation against some groups within society. Last year’s London bombings, and the arrest of alleged Sydney and Melbourne cells of homegrown Islamist terror conspirators, demonstrate the link between jihadist propaganda and terrorist violence.

But of course, we must also deal with this problem in a way that reassures and protects from racism Australia’s Muslim minority. Australian Muslims are overwhelmingly peaceful and understandably worried that the reaction to the small jihadist fringe, here and overseas, will jeopardise their personal security and social equality.

The answer to both problems is more vigorous implementation of the policy and principles of Australian multiculturalism, which has been official policy in this country for more than 30 years, and has helped create what is one of the most successful multi-ethnic democratic societies in the world.

Much recent debate reflects misunderstanding of what Australian multiculturalism represents. It is a policy based on a re-thinking of what the Australian community is, and what it means to be Australian, and on balancing our rights with our responsibilities. But it is certainly not the case, as some people seem to think, that it stands for “anything goes” or non-judgmentalism, with respect to either Islamic extremists, racist louts, Lebanese crime gangs, or any other behaviour inconsistent with Australia’s laws or core values. As has always been the case, and as Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary to the PM on multiculturalism, reaffirmed at the Sydney Institute on April 27, the idea of preserving “core values” is integral to the Australian concept of multiculturalism. These values include democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance, and English as the language of civic discourse.

Australian multiculturalism celebrates our rights to cultural and religious diversity but within the framework of our responsibilities to comply with the common cultural values Australians need to share in order to have a viable and harmonious community. It provides us a whole slew of benefits – from a socially enriched nation with a more vibrant cultural life to the economic advantages of productive diversity and being a receptive and culturally savvy place to conduct more joint economic relations with our neighbours. But above all, it gives us the sinews of our social cohesion and harmony as a nation.

We clearly have extremists here who preach separatism from non-Muslims, violent jihad as the essence of Islam, and racist conspiracy theories about Christians and Jews, as well as an obligation to hate. We have also repeatedly been visited by various foreign Muslim clerics who seek to radicalise local Muslims.

But such views are not a result of Australian multiculturalism, they are in direct conflict with it. Extremists have no right to come here to preach messages inimical to the core values of our society and those who are already citizens should be denounced and marginalised. If they are glorifying terrorist violence, or inciting racial hatred, they should be stopped or bear the legal consequences – because they are undermining the very basis of our multicultural democracy.

At the same time, every effort must be extended to continue to maximise the integration and engagement of Australia’s Muslim community into our multicultural society. They must be made to feel that they are equal, accepted and wanted Australians, but also that as part of the community they have a responsibility shared with the rest of us to protect and enhance the core values that make our society harmonious and cohesive.

This is the multiculturalism that is Australia’s best inoculation against the violent Jihadist totalitarianism which sadly and dangerously continues to haunt much of the Muslim world, as well as any other violent totalitarian movement that comes along. As part of our defence mechanisms, we need appropriate laws against incitement to terrorism in keeping with these principles.

Most recent items in: Antisemitism